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Communication is key

Posted by Arjendu on August 16, 2008

The first time I ever wrote about being a physicist, rather than about some physics I had worked on, was when Carleton organized a writing community that lead to the publication of a book of essays about Carleton Faculty’s Reflections on Teaching. I wrote about the fact that I had journaled about teaching for years, and found it enormously useful.

This blog is, I guess, an example of that process: I find writing very useful in organizing broader directions of my thinking. Talking organizes more immediate things, which is why I spend so much time on skype with my colleagues when a project is moving briskly.

This week’s example of ‘writing’ being critical to knowledge formation: I told Bob Keating — one of my student collaborators this summer — that I thought we were ready to start writing our paper. He was delighted. I pointed out to him that this didn’t mean we were done, but just that once we write it up for publication, we will understand how convincing and compelling our result is, and in particular, what we still need to figure out.

This drafting of a paper long before I am ready for its publication was not how I thought papers were written. I learned this trick from Tristan Hubsch, who was a post-doc with the exended Weinberg Group, when I was a callow graduate student in Austin. And have used it happily since, since it teaches me what I do not know well enough to defend, what I find intriguing, and to look back to see what was, in retrospect, obvious.

Bob should be happy, irrespective, even if we are far from done. It’s a good result he has — running with stuff that Adam Steege started for me last year. He was grinning from ear to ear as he left my office. Melissa ran into him, and then me, and asked: So what did you say to Bob? I told her what we had found together, and that I thought we might be ready. She didn’t disagree.

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